When I’m writing for this site, or just rambling incoherently about free music, I habitually refer to ‘us’, the movement that is, the free music scene which provides a common thread to bind together a vast number of completely different individuals into some sense of collective belief. Or at least that’s the theory.
There are as many reasons for releasing free music as there are people doing it and for a great many of them the act is just the act. People want to be heard, so they release their efforts for free, they often feel either no love or no hope for the commercial path of distribution so it’s a natural alternative to slap a Creative Commons license on their efforts and claim at least some sort of audience for their ideas. There’s certainly no ideological aversion to the commercial route with the purely practically minded and even where it’s accepted as being a separate thing as opposed to simply being a closed door it’s often viewed as an equal and valid entity without any notion of it being a redundant system which is to be replaced. It’s the sort of thinking which I view, rather than being a sign of apathy, as a position possessing a certain blinkeredness given the context of cultural distribution within our society. I view the question of who can access music and art in general and how they can do that as one which supersedes the nature of the art itself; I view it as a political and social issue. A position which, to a certain degree, negates the importance of artistic merit within free culture, quality being something which will emerge or be lost as an adjunct to the force of the ideal and the involvement of people beyond the ghetto of internet savvy, media conscious fans and artists. But I digress.
Obviously I’m far from alone in my position given that the very people who first set about codifying ideas like the Creative Commons licensing system or the Open Culture ‘movement’ presumably weren’t doing it simply for the immediate aesthetic pay-off of the content it would bring about. It was, I assume, conceived as a wider ideological cause which could place culture in the hands of those who experience and create it as opposed to isolated, abstracted and hierarchical arbiters; the means having more impact than the message. I do wonder however just how the numbers line up on this issue and who, really, speaks for the movement at large? The politicals with their grand visions and ideas of free culture, or the practical releaser, who just wants their music to be heard by as many people as possible without dwelling too long on promoting the structure of delivery beyond its current boundaries? Is the ‘movement’ a real, albeit chaotic, whole or just a static model which suits the desires of a minority and which needn’t aspire to going beyond that?
Do the two positions even conflict? Obviously the passive bulk can only benefit from the growth of the free music scene in the sense that it may aid in generating interest in their own work but is there any desire for the more oppositional attitude towards commercialism which people like me advocate? Does the average musician give a toss about my philosophical pontificating on bringing down a corporate system of what I consider to be elitist and unfair distribution? Or is the existence of an alternative in a confined corner of the public consciousness enough to be going on with? Can I, even in this article, say that I’m presenting something to the movement as a whole when I’m well aware that even the basic concepts of it are a matter of supreme disinterest to those who just want to create music and have it heard? Even worse, am I projecting a model of the ‘movement’ which’ll be proven wholly invalid should the commercial sector ever start pillaging the best of free music without anyone raising an objection or noting a sense of conflict in switching over?
I do believe that one vision or another will ultimately claim dominance within the free music world, not that the variety or complexity of views around is ever going to be tempered but with minimal mainstream interest in what we’re doing already any voice which does get heard in our defence is going to be the one which is most organised and shouts loudest, a qualification which won’t allow for the media to list the internal alternatives we have. Already the voice of online cultural distribution is, when it’s rarely even heard, the voice of the file-sharing community and groups like the localised Pirate Parties with their political mix between open culture, the death of copyright and the safeguarding of civil liberties, notably without an avowed focus on Creative Commons licensing. Their ‘tradition’ isn’t from our community but from the illegal file sharing scene which, for its many, many crossovers with us doesn’t follow the same path; plus it allows for support of ideological issues which are far beyond the usual free music remit. Whether the media should hear their voice, the voice of ‘our’ passive, non-political alternative or the rabid ramblings of ultra-Lefties like myself is a matter which will, ultimately, be resolved at some point with or without generalised discussion of it.
There will never be a consensus path to follow with the concepts and realities of free music, or free art in general, but it should be kept in mind that, to the mass ‘market’ what we’re doing as basic principles will end up being embodied by one dominant perception of it all.